Listen to your body. Your body knows best. Your body keeps the score.
Our Bodies are Smart
Our bodies have the uncanny ability to let us know what we need and when we need it. Headaches and a dry mouth tell us that we need to rehydrate, stomach rumbles or dizziness tell us that we need to eat, and yawns and heavy eyelids tell us when we need to rest. These are all daily occurrences, for most of us. Our body automatically sends signals to our brain, all we have to do is listen.
Sometimes the signs are more extreme. A cough, cold, or flu symptoms can tell us that we are burning out and need to take a break from our day-to-day work load. Fainting spells can indicate exhaustion, and nausea could be a sign of stress or anxiety. Of course, all of these could be caused by factors such as germs and bacteria, low immune system, hormone imbalances, and so on.
Stress affects Immune Function
However, they could all be linked. For example, DoctorMurray.com stated that "The health of the immune system is greatly impacted by a person’s emotional state, level of stress, lifestyle, dietary habits and nutritional status."
Our immune system function is affected by our emotional state and our stress levels.
Our bodies are literally screaming at us to take better care of ourselves. Our bodies are telling us to slow down, but in today’s society, with access to medication and caffeine in various forms, surely we can override our bodily signals? Wrong!
Ignoring our Bodies
So many of us don't listen, we ignore, and we suppress? I am a massive culprit of this. I have a list as long as my arm of little and large twinges and niggles that I pretend aren't there. I have a weak knee that randomly twinges every so often, I have weak wrists (leading to a disappointing lack of handstanding in my adult life!), I haven't been to the dentist in god knows how long, I periodically experience an irregular heartbeat, I used to faint a lot as a child and teenager, the list goes on. And I do nothing about any of them.
Even as I type this I am committing the crime of ignoring my body. I have been suffering from a cough and cold for nearly two weeks now. I took one day off work, had the following two days off anyway. I was so proud of myself for taking a day off work, I even posted about it on my Instagram! But after that I was straight back to work, and have worked almost solidly for the last eight days. At this very moment, I am preparing to go and see clients for the afternoon, all whilst barely being able to go a minute without coughing my lungs up.
Partially, I ignore these messages because I would rather live in blissful ignorance than know for sure that there is something wrong. They aren’t affecting my mortality, I’m not going to die from a twinge in my knee… but it would suck if this twinge ended up being something more sinister.
Putting Ourselves First
Another reason is that I hate to let other people down. My schedule is so full that I almost work seven days a week at various jobs and, as my partner pointed out; "you would rather not let anyone down than get your heart checked." And, annoyingly, he is completely correct! I don't put my own health first, which now seems ridiculous, and I convince myself that everything will work itself out.
Why do we Ignore our Bodies?
Many people have learned to ignore their body's signals, either on purpose or as a by-product of something else.
1. High Stress Job
People who go through gruelling training programs with long-shifts and barely any sleep, for example junior doctors, will often convince themselves that they aren't tired so that they can continue with their 36-hour shift, or even take on longer shifts to prove themselves as team players (Sangwan, 2013; via Huffpost.com). I know it isn’t as intense a job as being a doctor, but working in a small and understaffed café, lead me to ignore hunger pangs as I wouldn’t get to eat my lunch until about 4pm, and even then, I often ended up eating standing up and rushing off to greet customers in between bites.
2. Eating Disorder
Those suffering, or who have suffered, from an eating disorder will likely have purposefully ignored their body signalling hunger. Eventually, this can lead to many of the bodies other signals being misinterpreted. Ignoring a hunger signal becomes a triumph rather than a misfortune. The body being exhausted becomes an achievement rather than a signal to rest. During recovery from an eating disorder, reading and responding to these bodily signals needs to be re-learned, and this can be a long and difficult process, but it can be done.
Ignoring our body's signals can also be linked to our level of self-esteem. How deserving do we feel? We might feel our feet becoming sore, our muscles becoming heavy and achy, but do we feel we have worked hard enough to warrant a break? We might feel our stomach rumble and our fingers starting to shake, but we offer a lunch break to our colleague first. Our eyelids might be drooping and our concentration waning, but the assignment that we are working on isn't good enough yet; bring on the caffeine!
If you recognise yourself in any of these, you are not alone. I am, or have been, guilty of all three! However, I am taking the opportunity now to make a promise to myself (and to my partner!) that I will listen to my body, and that I will take the signals seriously.
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